Lachie Murdoch’s Media Kingdom

Photograph Source: Eva Rinaldi – CC BY-SA 2.0

Rupert Murdoch’s son, Lachlan Murdoch, is, without a doubt, one of the most influential media moguls of our time. Rupert himself is the son of the creator of what might be called MurdochracyKeith Murdoch.

Lachie – the short version for Lachlan – was and is the boss of the infamous Fox News. Lachlan will indeed be the successor of 91-year-old, Rupert Murdoch.

Two years ago, on the investigative website The Intercept, Peter Maas suggested that, We Need to Talk More About the Murdoch Family. Yet, an article about the Murdoch family was never just about the Murdoch family, it needs to trace the business, personal, and political development of Lachlan Murdoch.

The astute observer of the Murdochs might know that nowhere do the Murdochs wield such concentrated media power as in Australia. What power this is, has been best outlined by Keith Murdoch, the father of Rupert Murdoch – when saying the following at a dinner party in 1938 with the attending Prime Minister in the room. Murdoch maliciously said in front of the then Prime Minister of Australia, “I put him there, and I’ll put him out.”

Yet, Murdoch papers and TV stations have assured that many politicians were put there – one of which was Donald Trump. Fast-forwarded to today and we see that Fox News did not broadcast the proceedings of the 6th of January 2021 Capitol Hill attack in the USA. At that time, Fox was controlled by Lachlan with right-wing extremists and conspiracy fantasy purveyor Tucker Carlson being one of Lachlan’s personal favourites.

Tucker Carlson exists because Lachlan Murdoch wants him to exist. Not just within the Murdoch apparatus, Fox remains undoubtedly the crown jewel in the most powerful news business in the world. Yet, Fox News might in fact be more akin to a propaganda machinethan a news corporation like the BBC or CNN.

To reach the top of the news business or propaganda machine, young Lachie was destined to follow his father and grandfather into the media. Unsurprisingly, young Murdoch showed from his early days at Trinity, signs that he was leaning to the right, ideologically. Lachie even formed the Trinity Conservative Society.

He did this even though – or perhaps because he was less academically gifted than his siblings, as one might put it politely. During his student days, Lachie even wrestled with German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. When it comes to philosophy, Kant is rather plain and simply understandable even for Lachie – yet Kant was no Hegel.

The one who never really understood Kant was set to be the successor of Rupert’s newspapers that was strongly backing right-wing Tory leader Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Republican demagogue Ronald Reagan in the US.

Meanwhile, and thanks to the Murdochs, Australia remained the world’s most concentrated media market, apart from North Korea which does not even have a market. In Australia’s monopolised media market, Lachlan Murdoch became the publisher of The Australian – Murdoch’s global warming denying ideological flagship.

Worse, Rupert Murdoch’s other three children had agreed that Lachie will take over and that he will be primus inter pares – first among equals. This could, at least potentially, be a problem for the Murdoch empire as the following case testifies,

in Australia’s longest running litigation case Lachlan said, “I can’t recall” some 881 times. On this, the presiding judge wrote, “Mr Murdoch has never reached the level of understanding of the company’s financial circumstance.” The judge conclude, “Lachlan is an unreliable witness.”

Yet, in terms of business and apart from the Murdoch’s hobbyhorse – right-wing ideology – Lachie followed the traditional Murdoch maxim of, this paper has to get to profitability. In general, this often means take it down-market and turning it into a tabloid. This reflects on what can be called the tabloidization of newspapers.

To Lachie, tabloidization meant, for example, hiring fellow Republican and sexual predator Roger Ailes who was ‘a devotee of Hitler’s propagandist Reni Riefenstahl. Yet, Ailes also put television at the centre of Nixon’s campaign – before Tricky Dicky was forced to resign.

That did not deter Lachlan’s father at all. Rather the opposite occurred. Rupert Murdoch has fire-proofed Lachlan’s position on the board. Perhaps because the eldest son was always considered the most dutiful among his children: Prue (born 1958), Elisabeth (1968), and James (1972) – Lachlan was born in 1971.

Yet, there were also deep frictions inside the Murdoch clan culminating in a falling out between Rupert and son, Lachlan. It went so bad that, at one time, Rupert Murdoch said, “don’t let him into the fucking building.” At that time Rupert said, when asked about his successor, “we have a very strong bunch of candidates” – the very opposite was true.

Meanwhile, Lachlan’s own politics seemed to be shifting to the right. All his political donations, at least, went to the Republicans. Lachie also supported Texas-Republican Lamar Smith, a climate change-denier.

All in all, there were definite signs of a new conservatism in Lachlan. At the same time across the water, the Murdoch empire was tested as phone hacking went rife throughout Murdoch’s News of the World in the UK.

Back home, things got so dysfunctional that the siblings started attending family counselling. What surely did not help to ease the friction was having friends like Tony Abbott – also called the Mad Monk because of his Catholic fanaticism.

The former Australian prime minister Abbott and Lachie would become increasingly close friends. Abbott represents a mixture of religious fundamentalism, neoliberalism, and right-wing extremism. Inside Australia’s conservative political party, Abbott was on the right of the party. To get him elected and to support Abbott’s reactionary ideology, Lachlan’s The Australian went into overdrive.

Lachlan’s un-quavering support for Abbott’s global warming denial only underlined the toxicity of the family business of the Murdochs. Despite Lachlan’s best efforts, eventually, the misogynistic Abbott was gone.

Immediately, Lachlan’s papers began waging a jihad against the newly elected Labor government of Julia Gillard. As Lachie moved to the ideological right, Lachlan was set to be closer than ever to his old man. Meanwhile, Lachlan’s business performance remained unimpressive.

All this caused one of the most highly regarded Australian prime ministers – Kevin Rudd – to say, “in my dealings with him, I have never known a moderate Lachlan.” For all this, Lachie was dutifully rewarded. On the eighty-third birthday of Rupert, Lachie had the edge over James even though there were plenty of tensions between the brothers.

Yet, it moved Lachie closer to daddy as another, rather telling, episode signifies. When two Australian heroin smugglers were on death row in Bali, Lachlan argued that the two men deserved exactly what they were about to get. The death penalty does not solve the issue of drug addiction and Australia does not have the death penalty. Yet, Lachlan was advocating both. Most importantly, it showed that Lachie has moved to the right of his father’s views.

This occurred despite Lachlan’s often mentioned business failures which, in hindsight, wasn’t the key factor in creating stresses in the relationship between Rupert and the two brothers. The lines were drawn between James on the progressive side acknowledging, for example, that global warming is real, and Lachlan on the right of Rupert. Much of this became even more evident in the fact that Lachlan hired former Trump aide Hope Hicks.

Back in Australia and with a moderately conservative government under Malcolm Turnbull, Lachie was busy cooking up another plan: Turnbull’s end. For Lachlan, this did not come soon enough. Lachlan was soon facing accusations that he had helped in orchestrating the downfall of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull was soon to be replaced by, surprise, surprise, a man of Lachlan’s right-wing taste, the Christian fundamentalist and Pentecostal Christian Scott Morrison – whom to this day believes that God called him to be prime minister. All of this not only testifies to Lachlan’s right-wing ideology but also to the power of the Murdoch press and Lachlan’s adherence to his grand-father’s dictum, “I put him there, and I’ll put him out.”

Perhaps it also shows that Lachie is more conservative than his father and that Lachlan Murdoch was gaslighting America about the damage Fox News is doing to the USA. It also demonstrates the difference between the two Murdoch brothers – James and Lachlan. While Lachie did not feel embarrassed by Fox News, James certainly did.

Worse, Lachlan felt Fox had a responsibility, even an obligation, to serve up a right-leaning point of view. Lachlan’s right-wing ideology also resulted in the fact that in mid-2022, a British think tank study described the twenty-four-hour Sky News Australia as the key global content hub for climate misinformation – Lachlan Murdoch might have been proud of this.

Things were no better in the USA, where, during the Covid-19 pandemic, a Harvard public health expert confirmed that ‘people would die as a result of the misinformation of Fox’. On the issue of misinformation (accidental) or disinformation (planned), Lachie and his brother James differ rather radically.

James Murdoch noted once that Lachlan’s supposed contest of ideas (right-vs.-left) should, as James said, not “be used to legitimise disinformation.” It was a direct shot at Lachlan. Much of this indicated that the succession game may not truly be over. James is aligned with his sister Elisabeth and his half-sister Prudence, even if he is estranged from his father and brother.

In other words, Lachie could find himself rolled by James, Liz, and Prue, who were generally more liberal than Rupert. Yet, it is fair to assume that Lachie gets fired the day Rupert dies. What is surely not helping Lachlan’s case with his siblings is the fact that the politician whom he favoured most was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – Trump’s enabler-in-chief.

Chillingly, Lachlan is in the business of ramming home the appeal of Fox News which was Trump-TV for the Republican base. One is almost tempted to say, without Lachie, no Fox TV and without Fox TV, no Trump.

Lachlan Murdoch seems to play into the irrationalities of Trump and his conspiracy fantasies’ adoring supporters. This was pushed even further as Lachlan Murdoch’s Fox News cast doubt on the result of the election at least 774 times, according to watchdog Media Matters.

In any case, the Murdochs have inflicted so much racism, sexism, virulent lies, and damage in the USA. This is by no means the case for the USA only. It similarly applies to the UK and Australia.

Worse, the aforementioned Kevin Rudd is convinced – perhaps after years of being exposed to the media power of the Murdochs – that, “Murdoch has become a cancer, an arrogant cancer, on our democracy.”

Rudd is certain that the most powerful political actor in Australia is not the Liberal Party (Australia’s conservatives) or the National Party (even more conservative), or the Labor Party (progressive). It is News Corp.

Furnished with such power, the ideology of Lachlan Murdoch is increasingly becoming more dangerous when considering his conservative leaning project of defending Christianity and capitalism as part of the never-ending culture war.

In the USA, pushing this project is best assured by the engineering of a conservative Supreme Court in which Lachlan Murdoch’s favourite – Mitch McConnell – played an instrumental role. All of this casts a new light on Lachlan Murdoch’s personal donation to McConnell, by far his largest political gift.

It also supports the idea that Lachlan’s politics were to the right of his father. Lachlan Murdoch may one day run the most powerful and most right-wing media corporation the world has ever seen.

Yet, it might be hard to forecast if Lachlan gets fired the day Rupert dies. In the possible case that this will not happen, and Lachlan Murdoch remains in charge, the media power of the Murdoch empire will – most likely – carry on being shaped by Lachlan’s right-wing ideological zeal and personal quest to shape the world in Lachlan’s image.

Thomas Klikauer is the author of Managerialism (Palgrave, 2013).